Conor Culloton, Assistant Account Executive

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that psychology and language are inexorably linked. Psychology is the study of everything that’s going on in somebody’s mind; language is a way to express those thoughts. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal shed some light on the way humans talk given particular psychological circumstances, notably social standing, intent, truthfulness, and mental health. The studies described in the article investigated the way in which different people use the pronoun “I.”

You would not expect the use of a pronoun to reveal much about someone, except maybe that people who say “I” all of the time are egocentric, right?

Surprisingly, this hypothesis was proven wrong. Conceited individuals are less likely to use the pronoun “I” because as the studies showed, it personalizes a statement and makes the speaker more subservient. One fascinating study of correspondence between Iraqi military personnel revealed that higher-ranked individuals used “I” less than their underlings. A reason for this is that a statement like “I feel ignored” is less accusatory than “you are ignoring me,” and people that are not in a position of power are less inclined to be accusatory.

Language is one of the oldest inventions. It is a tool that humans invented to serve their needs, and it can still be treated as such. The frequency with which a person uses “I” can be changed to suit their needs. If “I” is used more, a piece of communication comes off as non-threatening. If used less, a piece of communication comes off as more authoritative. Both varieties can be useful, depending on what you want to say.